5 ways to hone your problem-solving skills

Being able to provide innovative solutions at short notice is now an essential skill for leaders. Here’s how you can enhance it. By Satyaki Sarkar

1. Concentrate on the need instead of the problem
A mistake people often make is that they focus on the problem rather than the need that has to be addressed. So you end up narrowing your focus and tune out everything else, which closes off your imagination and therefore prevents you from coming up with solutions. By focussing and taking care of the need you are bypassing the problem and can address it at a slightly later date when the crisis has been averted.

2. Let go of constrictive boundaries
We all have a tendency to confine ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, to our comfort zones. If we are used to a particular method of operation, we will try to find solutions within that method itself. In order to reignite our innovative capacities we must first let go of these self-imposed constrictive thought processes. Only when we are able to open our minds to the endless possibilities available and think outside the box can we be truly innovative and original in our approach, which could help give us the solution we need.

3. Break down the problem
Popularly known as the ‘chunk down method’, this approach involves breaking down the problem into separate, individual chunks that can be tackled separately. This helps you figure out the different factors contributing to the actual problem, as separate entities in themselves. By doing this, you can distance yourselves from the problem, gain perspective, and divide and conquer it, without letting it overwhelm you.

4. Ask the right questions before searching for answers
When faced with a problem, most of us focus too much on finding the right answer, rather than asking the right questions. This put us in an endless loop with no solution in sight. The key is to ask questions that will help you assess the problem from a different perspective or give you insight into the situation at hand that could trigger off a solution. For example, asking yourself what assumptions you’re making, what can you learn from the problem, where you can find more information about it, why it is a problem, etc. Thinking along different avenues will push you to think out of the box and help find the solution eluding you.

5. Rethink and re-evaluate your assumptions
In order to quickly resolve a problem we often tend to work based on a number of hastily made assumptions that are often flawed, or at the very least, unrealistic. As such, it’s a good idea to take a step back and reconsider the assumptions and conclusions you’ve based your theories on, so as to ensure you test out all possibilities and arrive at the best possible solution. In this situation, a colleague who is not connected to the issue at hand can be immensely helpful in giving an objective opinion about the process, act as a devil’s advocate, and ask pertinent questions that you might have skipped in your hurry to solve the problem.

Photograph: Mindandi/ 

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